Education

'Copycat' viral social media threats prompt NC schools to enter lockdown

Posted September 22, 2021 4:48 a.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2021 6:00 p.m. EDT

— Violent threats circulating on social media across North Carolina prompted many schools to go into lockdown on Wednesday.

Local media outlets reported that schools throughout the country have been going into lockdown as a result of similar threats. A handful of students so far have been arrested on charges they spread violent messages in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Delaware.

"Copycat hoax threats" across the Wake County Public School System caused several schools to go into lockdown Wednesday, district spokeswoman Lisa Luten said.

"This viral response is typical from students after media reports on a threat," Luten said.

School officials were on high alert after threats were directed toward at least two Wake County schools. E.E. Smith High School and Cape Fear High School, both in Cumberland County, also received online threats over the past couple days.

Parents of students at Smithfield-Selma middle and high schools rushed to grab their children on Wednesday afternoon before the end of the school day after the schools entered a brief lockdown, video shows.

As of Wednesday afternoon, none of the threats were determined to be credible, and all students and staff were safe.

"Johnston County Public Schools takes these matters very seriously, and we investigate every report and rumor thoroughly," school officials said. "We stress that parents and guardians speak with their students about the consequences of making these types of statements, whether they are speaking with other students or making comments on social media."

Anyone found responsible for making a threat could face criminal charges.

An 18-year-old was charged this week after threats were directed at several Guilford County schools, and on Tuesday, East Wake High School in Wendell was on lockdown after a Snapchat message showed a picture with a gun and the words "East Wake be ready."

Students missed an hour of class and, at one point, waited in locked classrooms while deputies searched the school.

In Florida, a student was charged with threatening a shooting at South Broward High School. The district is home to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed in a 2018 mass shooting.

Two middle school boys in Lee County, Fla., were arrested last week and are facing charges of conspiracy to commit a mass shooting after deputies found weapons at the boys' homes and a map planning out a shooting. Another middle school student in LaGrange, Ga., was charged with spreading threats online last week.

Many of these threats are posted on Snapchat or Instagram, in disappearing messages, local media outlets report.

After a school shooting in Newport News, Va., this week, school officials say there have been multiple online threats of more violence. Authorities there said it's "not uncommon" for there to be an increase in social media threats after a school shooting.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said anyone who posts a threat could be charged with "a threat of mass of violence on educational property. That is a Class H felony." That charge is the same whether the culprit is an adult or under 18. A Class H felony can mean a prison sentence of four to 25 months.

This string of school violence threats comes after schools across the United States work to combat a TikTok trend — "the devious lick" — focused on destroying bathrooms at schools.

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